Header Ads

Robot Dreams (2023)

Every year in awards season there's a "little film that could" in the animation category. A small, independent, usually foreign film that is nominated alongside Hollywood blockbusters and smash hit anime. They don't stand much chance of winning, but it is always good to see a smaller film get the recognition. This year that film is Robot Dreams, a French/Spanish co-production, which received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. It ultimately lost out to Hayao Miyazaki'sThe Boy And The Heron, but is has won more than 20 awards elsewhere including Best Feature (Independent) at the Annie Awards and Best Animated Feature at the European Film Awards,and Spain's Goya Awards, The Contrechamps award at Annecy and the Special Jury Prize at Animation Is Film Festival.

Robot Dreams is written and directed by Pablo Berger, based on the graphic novel of the same name written by Sara Varon. It's Berger's debut in animation, with his background being in live-action films such as Blancanieves and Torremolinos 73.  It's produced by Arcadia Motion Pictures and was animated in studios in Madrid and Pamplona that were established just to work on this film. The film is distributed in the UK by Curzon and in the United States by Neon.

In a version of 1980's New York populated by anthropomorphic animals, Dog lives a lonely life of microwave meals for one and nights in alone in front of the telly. Then, one day he sees an advert for humanoid robots and excitedly rings up and orders one. Robot quickly comes in the post and Dog introduces his new friend to his home city. The pair quickly become inseparable and enjoy visits to places like Central Park and Coney Island. One day, after a trip to the seaside, Robot becomes rusted and stuck to the beach and Dog is forced to abandon him. The very next day the beach is closed for the season- will the two best friends find a way to be reunited?

Robot Dreams is brought to life in beautiful hand-drawn animation. The artwork has a very clean, simple and cartoony look to it. The style resembles that of a European comic book, with strong lines and flat colours. The character design is exemplary, with the main characters and background characters alike. The animals all have such character and charm and distinctive looks.

It helps create the impression of a really bustling, living city. The film has such a distinctive sense of time and place, that can only come from extensive research. The photo-realistic backgrounds portray real places, brought to life in painstaking detail. Berger has said in interviews (such as his one for AFA) that he wanted the film to be a love letter to New York, a city he lived in for many years. That definitely comes across.

The film's heart is the relationship between Dog and the Robot. It's essentially a love story, with the audience cheering them to get back together. Like in many love stories, the early days are full of joy and then our protagonists are forced apart for much of the running time. Some audiences may read their relationship as romantic, although it's never confirmed either way in the text. Although the story is bittersweet, it's never too sad or too much of a downer. I've seen it described as a 'tragi-comedy' but that might be taking it a bit far.

Distinguishing the film from most animated features is the fact that Robot Dreams is entirely dialogue-free. There are a few voice actors credited, but they only make noises and never utter a word. Silent storytelling is a tricky proposition, but it's pulled off here with aplomb. It deserves to be up there with other great dialogue-free animation like Shaun The Sheep, Tom and Jerry and The Red Turtle.

The fact the film has zero dialogue helps ensure the film is universal. As do its themes such as loneliness and the value of friendship. It also helps this film be truly for everyone, from the youngest viewer to adults. It very much would be suitable for children, and parents don't need to worry about any non-kid-friendly content. However, adult viewers will probably pick up on the film's deeper themes, as well as appreciating its sense of nostalgia. This is in no way a film that only children will enjoy.

Robot Dreams is a pretty simple film but it's an utter delight. There's no big action setpiece, no wise-cracking sidekick and at no point does anyone shoot a blue laser into the sky. It's deliberately a small, down-to-earth story with relatable stakes. It's no wonder that the film has been showered in award nominations. The fact that this is Berger's animation debut only makes it more impressive. I can't wait to see what his newfound love of animation brings us next!

ROBOT DREAMS is in cinemas in the UK now via Curzon and will open in the US on May 31 from Neon.



A Big-Hearted Bittersweet Bromance. If it doesn't move you, you might be a robot.